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st: Taking list matters off-list

From   "Nick Cox" <>
To   <>
Subject   st: Taking list matters off-list
Date   Thu, 23 Aug 2007 18:24:10 +0100

Three times today list members have taken threads off-list
and sent me personal responses or questions. 

As some people are new to the list, and others may be new 
to list servers, I give below a revised version of a posting 
last made on 2nd May. In the nature of things it is advice, 
not the law, but it may help people make best use 
of everybody's time, not least their own. 

Following various discussions both on and off the list, 
it is likely in due course to form part of the next revision
of the FAQ. 


Many of those active on Statalist and/or in the Stata user community 
can get a variety of personal emails from people they hardly know 
requesting Stata support. This is not very surprising: people 
who want help naturally tend to ask those who they think may provide 
it. But for everyone's sake this may need a little more consideration
than it is sometimes given. 

There can be many reasons to email someone directly: most obviously, 
if you are a friend or you have a question specifically 
about a program someone has written. Nothing below applies to 
those kinds of mail. 

However, emailing someone on the grounds that they appear active and 
knowledgeable about Stata is a tactic with low probability of getting 
precisely what you want and a high probability of wasting the time of 
both parties. 

1. Often the experts cannot help, as they don't understand the question, 
don't know the answer, or just don't have the time. People who are good
at answering some kinds of Stata questions can be completely clueless 
about other kinds. Also, no Stata expert known to me offers unpaid private 
consultancy, which is what some people seem to expect. (There are rather 
few paid Stata consultants either, and please don't expect me to nominate
one. If you really want one, ask on Statalist for people to offer.) 
2. People active on Statalist clearly show that they think it is a good
thing. Precisely why is that? Much of the benefit of Statalist is 
that any answer to a question might well interest other people. 
Also, nobody is obliged to answer anything. If you send private mail to 
anyone, you oblige them to answer, or, commonly, to feel rude or awkward 
if they ignore your mail. 

3. Often the implication, or even the justification, of a private mail
is that the question is too elementary or trivial to post to Statalist. 
This is almost always the wrong way to think. If it really is elementary 
or trivial, then why not work it out yourself, or why do you think an expert
would be interested in answering it? At worst, Statalist can get a bit nippy
if you show few signs of wanting to help yourself or even of trying to 
explain the question clearly, but no one will call you really bad names. 

4. Say you started a thread and then you take it private, perhaps
on the grounds that the matter may be getting tedious for
others. Well, perhaps so, but they can always Delete your post, 
just like almost all others. More importantly, your response
is invisible to others who may be interested in the thread. 
Also, because someone offered their tuppenceworth (two cents' worth)
doesn't mean they have any more to offer.

5. Time spent posting to Statalist is time not available for doing 
the other things in anybody's life. So, the guess that Stata-active people
have yet more time available for private support really is
the wrong way round. 

6. People who pop up in your mailbox frequently, perhaps daily, may from
that appear familiar to you. Do remember that feeling on your part doesn't 
impose personal obligations on their part. 

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